Continued: Who Owns the River?

In last week’s episode, we were attempting to answer the question, “Who owns the Hoh River?”

Ownership began with the Native Americans shortly after the last ice age. In the 1700s, this ownership was challenged by various European nations which came to our shores claiming land for their empires, looking for treasure and searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, a water route across the continent that would serve as a convenient shortcut to China from Europe. No one found it.

Capt. George Vancouver proved there was no water route across the continent in his exhaustive exploration of Puget Sound in 1792. Alexander Mackenzie confirmed there was no Northwest Passage in his overland journey across the continent in 1793.

By the 1800s, the Hoh River country was a part of what was known as the Oregon Territory — a huge expanse of the Pacific Northwest that was jointly occupied by Britain and the United States until the Treaty of 1846, in which Britain agreed to move north of the 49th parallel.

Coincidently, in 1846, an estimated 400,000 European settlers, including the Neal family, began the 2,000-mile journey from Missouri to Oregon.

Fueled by Manifest Destiny, a belief that Americans had a preordained right and duty to civilize and subdue the North American continent, we shot the buffalo, fouled the water holes and outraged the Indians.

We were looking for free land.

The land was not free. It was still owned by the Native Americans. Their title to the land had to be extinguished before it could be opened for homesteading by the invading Europeans. This was a legal technicality easily dismissed by Isaac Stevens, who was Washington’s territorial governor, Indian agent and railroad surveyor long before the term “conflict of interest” had been invented.

In drawing up the treaties, Stevens thought an Indian war would be good for the economy, and the genocidal terms of the treaties reflected this belief. Once the Native American title to their lands was extinguished, the land was open for settlement.

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed individuals to claim 160 acres for a fee of $10, if they established a residence and cultivation of a crop for five years.

It was not until 1892 that the first homesteaders reached the Hoh River.

John Huelsdonk, the legendary “Iron Man of the Hoh,” and his brothers filed claims in this remote valley where the only access was by poling a canoe up the river or walking The Pacific Trail. This was a trail made entirely of split cedar boards that ran from Forks to Moclips.

At the time, homesteaders could pay their taxes by working on the trail.

Times were hard. Markets for produce and livestock were far away. There were few meager alternatives to make a living in the wilderness. The Huelsdonks captured calf elk that were traded to Alaska for mountain goats. Bounties on wolves, cougar and bears helped many of the early settlers eke out a living.

By the late 1890s, land speculators had abused the Homestead Act to such an extent that it was a common practice for timber company employees to establish fraudulent homesteads that were sold to timber companies that logged the land and let it go back to the county for back taxes.

This practice, described by one lawmaker as the “looting of the public purse,” ended the Homestead Act.

Congress granted Washington millions of acres of unclaimed land to support schools and other public institutions.

These School Trust Lands are managed today by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Next: The Olympic Forest Reserve.

Who Owns the River?


 Tourists ask many questions about this land of ours. Is the weather always like this? How deep is the river? As a professional know-it-all, if I don’t have an answer, I’ll make something up. One day a tourist asked a question that was really tough to answer:

“Who owns the Hoh River?”

It began with the melting of the great continental ice sheet about 15,000 years ago. The water filled the river. The river shaped the land. The land has been forever the history of man. That began here more than 13,800 years ago if Sequim’s Manis mastodon site is any indication. That’s where a spear point made from another mastodon bone was found in a rib bone of a partially butchered mastodon. Making it the oldest documented barbecue in the Pacific Northwest. Analysis determined the mastodon was old and arthritic, which somehow paved the way for Sequim to become a retirement community.

We can assume this land has been continually inhabited by Native people ever since. Why would they leave? It was a paradise of seafood and big game that amounted to the ultimate surf and turf buffet with herbs, root crops and berry side dishes, all there for the taking.

The people moved west and south along our coast, which would have been 20 miles west of the present coastline in those days. They began fishing for salmon about 9,000 years ago while hunting the myriad Pleistocene mega-fauna into extinction because then, as now, that’s the way man has always done it.

To be fair, the climate was cooling and the landscape was changing. Those big animals needed grasslands, and our forests were beginning to appear. By 8,000 years ago, people began shifting from land mammal hunting to fishing and clam digging. Our forests dominated the region about 5,000 years ago in response to a shift to a colder, wetter climate. The people began making canoes about 3,000 years ago. The first cedar plank houses were built more than 1,000 years ago.

By then, a Northwest Coast culture had developed that largely depended on salmon, seals, whales and tidal resources for food and the cedar tree for a material culture that blossomed until the appearance of the Europeans.

The invasion of the West Coast began in 1513 when Vasco Nunez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama, waded into the Pacific and claimed possession of the sea and all the lands it touched for Spain. He was followed by English and American explorers and traders who came from the south while the Russians came from the north. All of them looking for treasure, plunder and territory to claim.

When they discovered there was no gold, the Spanish interest in the Northwest cooled. The Russians went broke. The Americans bluffed the British, leaving the United States owners of the Hoh River. At the time, there were seven villages of the Hoh people along the river from tidewater to the subalpine zone. The entire watershed was used for hunting, fishing, foraging, spiritual rituals and burial sites. The Russians shipwrecked on the Hoh River in 1809 mentioned 13 canoes full of people passing downriver in one day, indicating the Hoh was a very busy place.

In 1863, the Hoh Tribe was forced to sign a treaty that moved them to Quinault, but they refused to abandon their homeland. President Grover Cleveland established the current 443-acre Hoh Reservation in 1893. By then, Europeans were claiming land along the Hoh River under the Homestead Act. The Hoh People could not homestead what had been their land because they were not U.S. citizens at the time.

To be continued …

The News From N.O.A.A.

It was another tough week in the news. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration threatened further restrictions on salmon fishing from California north to the Canadian border. These new proposals are the result of NOAA conducting a risk assessment under the Endangered Species Act.

They evaluated the impact of fisheries on West Coast chinook salmon abundance and its effect on the designated critical habitat of the endangered southern resident orca of Puget Sound.

Recent research has revealed where and when the orca forage and their preferred prey.

Studies have shown their summer diet in inland waters consists primarily of chinook salmon.

Despite the increasing rarity of this species, chinook compose 50 percent of the orca diet in the fall, increasing to 70-80 percent in winter and increasing still more to 100 percent of their diet in the spring. Insufficient prey has been identified as a limiting factor in orca recovery.

To ensure the orca have enough chinook salmon, NOAA has proposed limiting commercial and recreational fishing when chinook numbers fall below a certain level of abundance that would provide prey for the orca.

While removing the Snake River dams to increase chinook salmon for the orca is not entirely off the negotiating table, it might as well be.

We need look no further than the Elwha for perspective. Our local $350 million Elwha Dam removal experiment has stalled in the attempt to produce the projected 400,000 salmon this environmentalist pipe dream foretold.

The estimated $1 billion spent on salmon restoration in Washington in the last 20 years has been largely squandered on grant-sucking, make-work projects, gratuitous research and public education that attempts to spin this failure into a plea for more money.

Attempts to increase hatchery production of chinook salmon for the orca have been hamstrung by environmentalist attorneys who sue the state to shut down fish hatcheries under the misguided assumption that, after 100 years of fish hatcheries, hatchery fish and their feral progeny that make up our so-called wild fish populations are somehow different species.

Meanwhile, the western United States is experiencing the worst drought in the last 1,200 years.

For the first time in 114 years, the canal that sends Klamath River water to irrigate 150,000 acres of farms in Oregon and California will stay completely dry this summer — which has ignited protests from armed, right-wing activists who are threatening to take control of the irrigation canals.

So, it is no wonder NOAA wants to stop us from fishing for chinook salmon. It is a simple solution to a complex problem. For example, an April 18 Peninsula Daily News article revealed that the recreational fisheries chinook quota “along the entire Washington coast” was 26,360 fish last year.

Meanwhile, in the same year the Alaska trawler fleet had an eerily familiar bycatch of 26,000 chinook salmon.

These fish, which are celebrated every spring in Seattle for $75 a pound, cannot be sold.

They are donated or thrown overboard. Trawlers drag huge nets through the water indiscriminately killing everything in their path in a process known as strip mining the ocean.

The trawlers are targeting pollock used in making fake crab meat and the McDonalds Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a favorite inexpensive meal of humans.

McDonald’s is able to keep its price on the fish sandwich low by keeping the wages of their workers so low that they qualify for government-sponsored benefits, such as Medicaid and Food Stamps.

While NOAA turns a blind eye to the trawler bycatch to bolster the federal policy of subsidizing the fast-food industry, it will stop us from catching salmon to eat.

Have a nice day.

Fun on the Farm

E ery year along about this time, I think about the good old days.

That was back when the Olympic Peninsula lowlands were filled with farms.

Children were considered farm machinery.

There were many fine farm careers to choose from.

I couldn’t wait get started.

You could buck hay bales. There was a career that would put some meat on your bones.

You’d spend the day trotting alongside a flatbed truck, bucking bales up to the stacker, who piled the bales up to impossible heights that would sometimes fall right back in the field when the driver popped the clutch, scattering the bales back all over the ground where we had to load them back on the truck all over again.

Then you’d rest up on the trip to the barn, where you stacked the bales once more until you knew each one of them by name.

Or you could move irrigation pipe, where you packed lengths of aluminum pipe across endless fields of boot-sucking muck from one end to another, spending the rest of the day trying to get the water pump started.

Or you could pick strawberries.

That seemed like easy money at the time — to start out early on a summer morning, gorging down endless rows of perfectly ripe berries.

That was strawberry heaven.

Until your guts started gurgling like a living thing, which started the endless trips to the outhouse, where you spotted a sucker-punching buddy from school who nailed you in the head with a rotten berry.

You could get fired for berry fights. Which meant no dough for the things you needed for a happy childhood — fireworks.

You didn’t want to get caught throwing berries.

Revenge could wait.

There would be many trips to the outhouse those first couple of days of berry picking, until you were so sick of berries you’d just as soon chew on a dirt clod.

As luck would have it, the boss kept all the boys picking together where he could keep a close eye on them.

For some reason, the other guy’s row of berries always seemed to be a little riper, with more of the really big strawberries that could fill up your boxes faster.

You only got paid for the berries you picked.

There were 12 boxes to a flat, which was a wooden box you pushed along the rows of berries.

You got paid a dollar a flat, as I remember.

Big money in those days.

One day just for fun, I made up a special strawberry box, half full of rocks covered with a thin layer of berries that I exchanged with my friend while he was visiting the facilities.

It was a dirty trick, but Franz had it coming.

As the day in the berry field wore on, your back began to ache from the constant strain of bending.

Your knees were raw from crawling down the endless rows.

Sometimes the gastric distress kept you dashing for the outhouse.

That was the bad news.

The good news was it was the only shade in the field.

After what seemed like all day, it was quitting time.

That’s when everyone got paid — except for me and Franz.

The boss gave us a stern talking to instead.

It seems we both played the same rock trick on each other —proving crime does not pay.

I went on to pick many other crops after that, berries, beans and peas.

I made a small fortune, which was immediately invested in fireworks.

Now the farms, the farmers and Franz are gone, and I miss the heck out of them.

Searching for Solitude.

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Now that the tourists are here, it’s easy to see why we put a season on them in the first place.

From the acidified ocean to the melting glaciers and the majestic rain forests in between, the Olympic Peninsula has seen an unprecedented invasion of tourists searching for solitude in a pristine wilderness — while waiting in line for ferries, burgers, ice cream and National Park entrances.

Here in Washington, it’s illegal to bait waterfowl and bears, but baiting the tourists with tall tales has been a proud Peninsula tradition since the first European arrived on our shores.

These early tourists all had one thing in common. No one believed them when they got back home.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca was named after a tourist who may or may not have actually been here.

The Greek navigator Apostolos Valerianus, who went by the name of Juan de Fuca, claimed that in 1592 he found an inlet on the Pacific coast in which he sailed for 20 days in a land rich in gold, silver and pearls.

The Spanish, English, Russian and American tourists spent the next 200 years looking for this mythical Northwest Passage, an imaginary shortcut across the continent to the treasures of the Orient.

It wasn’t until July 1787 that the first documented European tourists, Captain Charles Barkley and his wife, Francis, visited the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The results were catastrophic for the Native Americans, who regaled the subsequent invasion of European explorers and settlers with stories about how they never went into the Olympic Mountains because they were haunted by a tribe of hairy giant cannibals and a Thunderbird that was big enough to pluck whales out of the ocean and drop them on the glaciers to save them for later. Recent archaeological discoveries and tribal testimonies have shown that the Olympics were inhabited for thousands of years with camps and trails to villages all through the mountains.

Obviously, the Native Americans wanted to keep the Olympics for themselves.

Our pioneer forefathers had their own ideas about baiting tourists.

They said all you had to do was push a boat up the Elwha River far enough, and you’d find a lake and a prairie and maybe even some Indians that still hunted buffalo.

Hearing this tall tale, the Press Expedition of 1898 wasted no time in buying some green lumber from one of the pioneer forefathers to build a boat to find the lake.

The expedition wasted weeks building and pushing the leaky boat up the Elwha through the snow, ice and log jams.

Abandoning the boat, they discovered a camp of S’Klallam elk hunters with a big fire and elk quarters hanging.

The S’Klallam claimed they knew nothing about the upper Elwha country, confirming the usual story that no Indian would ever venture up there.

However, there is no doubt that, by then, the news had traveled through the moccasin telegraph about the white man wiping out the buffalo, and the locals didn’t want the same thing to happen to the elk. That would come later.

Throughout the early 1900s, the locals told the tourists of the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered in the Olympics.

Mountains, streams and lakes were named after the gold, silver, iron copper and coal you were sure to find if you had enough venture capital. Promotions like these put Tull City on the map.

These days tourists are lured to the Peninsula searching for solitude on a crowded planet — with thousands of their closest friends.

It’s the end of the last frontier.